Last semester, I was extremely stressed. I was taking five classes for the first time, attempting to put up a play and dealing with typical friendship and relationship issues. I felt entirely overwhelmed. I found myself skipping a class regularly because thinking about it made me anxious, and I soon realized I wasn’t coping in a healthy way. I called Mental Health and Counseling at Yale Health, asking for an appointment. By the time they matched me with someone to talk to, weeks had passed and I felt so behind in my classes that I canceled the meeting.
Many students I’ve talked to have told me similar stories. Things got rough and they reached out to MHC, but they were put off for long enough that they were already discouraged when they met their therapist, or didn’t go to their appointments at all. The Yale College Council conducted a report on mental health on campus in 2013. Out of 360 students polled, more than half thought that the length of time they waited before receiving help (after contacting MHC) was unreasonable.
For those who haven’t explored the Yale Health website, students are given a mandatory evaluation after calling MHC and are then assigned a therapist. The website promises an evaluation appointment “within two to four weekdays” and states that “most students are able to connect with their therapist typically within a couple of weeks.” This timeframe is already pretty unsatisfactory — a couple of weeks, to a student who has reached the point where they are reaching out for help, can be too much. But even these promises are not true.
I arrived back on campus this fall, interested in learning better coping mechanisms for anxiety. Still not entirely discouraged from reaching out to MHC, I called again. I tried to leave a message over the weekend, and discovered they have no answering machine and only take calls — and hold appointments — during the workday, which is when most undergraduate classes are held. I called again on a Monday; I was told that I’d need to be evaluated again even though I already had an evaluation last year, and that the first evaluation appointment available was in two weeks. Not two to four days. Fifteen days. And that’s not even for a therapist — just to be evaluated. To get an actual session would probably take weeks after that.
This is unacceptable. I’ve been lucky — I have a strong support network of friends and family, and reached out when things weren’t very serious — but during a preliminary phone call, MHC has no idea how severe symptoms are. For students who have more serious mental health concerns, a few weeks of being ignored can be extremely dangerous.
Asking for help is a big step. It’s scary, it’s hard and if students are discouraged when they do it, they often won’t reach out again. Often students call MHC before their situation becomes imminently dangerous, or don’t feel that their issues (however severe) warrant a call to the emergency number.
Even if students are not facing immediately threatening situations, that doesn’t mean that their treatment can be delayed. Depression and anxiety (and any other concerns students call MHC for) can rapidly worsen, especially if left untreated in an extremely high-pressure environment like Yale. By constantly delaying treatment for students who are at a point where they are able to ask for non-emergency help, Yale is increasing the chance of an emergency.
A 2015 News article discussed how MHC was attempting to address these issues, possibly in response to the YCC report (“Students skeptical of mental health changes,” Feb. 20, 2015). At that time, MHC employed 28 clinicians and announced they were hiring more. However, according to their current website, that number hasn’t changed.
MHC services both undergraduates and graduate students, which adds up to over 12,000 students. Do the math: especially in the wake of two new residential colleges and an upsurge in student population that will continue for the next four years, this is not sufficient.
Yale has the resources. It needs to make mental health a priority in a big way. Students will succeed at higher levels if they are given the support that they are already asking for. If a student came into Yale Health with a broken leg they wouldn’t have to wait two weeks for a doctor to look at it. Mental health should be no different.
Carrie Mannino is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .